Outcome of climate negotiations remains murky after Bonn talks

Delegates at last week's climate talks in Bonn said the meeting had made progress on a number of issues, including emissions reduction mechanisms, compliance and adverse effects. However, environmentalists said that failure to clarify the negotiations' core subject matter could lead to problems during later talks.

The meetings, which were the 12th round of talks between subsidiary bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), were held from 5 -16 June in Bonn, Germany. The aim of the talks was to work toward drawing up the texts that will be the subject of negotiations at the next major climate change conference (COP-6) in November at The Hague, the Netherlands.

The climate change talks are part of the ongoing process to finalise the operational details of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Protocol will require developed countries to reduce their collective greenhouse gas emissions by five percent compared to 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012.

The Kyoto rulebook must include accounting methods for national emissions and emissions reductions (see related story), rules for getting credit for forestry ‘sinks’ – in which new trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus offsetting emissions – (see related story), a regime for monitoring compliance with commitments (see related story), and procedures for the Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) (see related story) and Joint Implementation and Emissions Trading systems.

A comprehensive political package must also address technology transfer and the special concerns of developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change or to the economic consequences of emissions reductions by developed countries.

The meetings consisted of sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA). They were attended by 1,700 diplomats and representatives of non-governmental, intergovernmental and UN organisations.

The Bonn talks resulted in the adoption of a new text on emissions reduction mechanisms, of a Report of the Joint Working Group on Compliance and of a number

of draft conclusions. At the close of the talks, delegates said the meeting had achieved its objective. “The emergence of negotiating texts here and the growing involvement of ministers indicate that the talks are moving from detailed technical matters to core political issues,” said Michael Zammit Cutajar, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Climate Change Convention.

“There is still a great deal of work to do, however. Political leaders world-wide now need to get fully engaged in finalising an international strategy on global warming over the next five months if we are to have an effective agreement in November at The Hague climate change conference,” Cutajar said.

But environmentalists felt that the sheer complexity of the negotiations will affect the developing nations’ ability to ratify the Treaty. “The environmental groups have called on the Governments to make progress before the Hague,” Rhoda Verheyen Climate Change Campaigner at Friends of the Earth told edie. “If rules for the application and implementation of the mechanisms aren’t fleshed out before, no-one will know what they’re negotiating about. Developing countries are lost in the complexity and it’s not fair to present them with a deal they can’t understand.”

Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) reports that while talks on how to enforce compliance with the terms of the Kyoto Protocol progressed on issues such as the need to establish a compliance body, the meeting stumbled on such issues as whether the compliance system applies to all Parties or only industrialised (Annex I) countries only and whether the compliance body will be composed of a greater number of Annex I Parties.

Controversy also continues to hamper progress on carbon sinks. The issue of possible inclusion of sinks-related projects in the CDM caused particular problems. According to ENB, most Latin American countries are in favour of the inclusion of sinks-related projects in the CDM. The EU and some developing countries oppose the inclusion of sinks in the CDM, citing the huge uncertainties in such projects, the difficulty in ensuring they are not cut down and the high potential for leakage.

The sinks issue also caused problems in the session on land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF). Some Parties link progress on sinks and a decision at COP-6 to ratification of the Protocol and were therefore concerned at the pressure to hasten the LULUCF negotiations. By the end of the session, says ENB, Parties had barely begun to identify positions regarding accounting scenarios and additional human induced activities.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing countries continued to insist on ‘compensation’ to offset the effects of policies and measures to cut fossil fuel consumption in developed countries. ENB says it has become clear that some parties “are willing to scuttle the entire process at COP-6 if this issue is not taken seriously enough.”

The next and final set of preparatory meetings take place in Lyon, France on 11 – 15 September. The Lyon meetings must finalise as many issues as possible to leave time for a comprehensive political deal in The Hague.

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